Christians are not noted for learning from people of different faiths. In fact, many Christians seem to believe that even considering a perspective that differs from their own is borderline sinful. That is unfortunate because examining others’ views can often deepen our own. A good example of this is the concept of karma.
Karma is an eastern concept, notably Buddhist, claiming that what we think, say, and do now is rewarded or punished later. For Buddhists, the concept is both a motivation to behave well and a source of confidence that morality is meaningful.
Karma, in other words, refers to the consequences warranted by behavior—deserved consequences. Of course, history and everyday experience demonstrate that good behavior is not always rewarded nor is bad behavior punished, at least not in a timely fashion. In many cases, villains go to the grave unpunished, and victims go unrewarded.
Buddhism answers this difficulty by asserting that karma can occur either in the present life or in a subsequent life through reincarnation. Christians reject the idea of reincarnation and this response leads many to reject the idea of karma as well.
The first rejection is reasonable given Christianity’s precepts, but the second is not. Though Christianity does not affirm that after this life humans “come back” in another, higher or lower, life form, it does teach that good behavior deserves rewarding and bad behavior deserves punishing, and that these consequences can occur in the afterlife. Matthew notes, for example, that God makes “His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous (5:45); also that weeds will be allowed to grow along with the wheat “until the harvest (13:30).
Buddhism is non-theistic, so it ascribes karma to the condition of the cosmos and/or the inherent nature of behavior—good behavior containing the seeds of reward; bad behavior, the seeds of punishment. Because Christians believe that God created the cosmos and that He exercises providence over its laws and human lives, they may be inclined to reject not only Buddhist non-theism but also the Buddhist view of behavior. The latter rejection is a mistake.
Christianity clearly teaches that the nature of behavior governs its consequences. A famous scriptural passage admonishes us, “You reap what you sow” (Galatians 6:7), and Jesus taught that the quality of our behavior defines us. (See Matthew 7:15-16.)
Far from fearing intellectual or spiritual contamination from the Buddhist concept of karma, Christians should recognize the insights it can provide into their own faith.
- The concept of karma exposes the false notion that we create our own morality. For example, it reminds us that kindness to others rewards us and unkindness punishes us in ways no less real for being subtle or delayed.
- The concept of karma reinforces the understanding that actions count in ways that talking or pretending does not. As Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter”(Matthew 7:21).
Both insights are valuable for Christians, and for others, especially in the present age when relativism is undermining both religion and morality.
Copyright © 2014 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved
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